Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
The second shift wasn't a good one for the Wranglers on Tuesday night.
Just 36 seconds into his Las Vegas return, center Justin Bernhardt suffered a serious knee injury and left the game.
The injury served as an underlying theme in the team's 5-3 loss to Victoria, a game that head coach Ryan Mougenel summed up by saying, "We lost our legs."
Holding onto a one-goal lead entering the third period, the Salmon Kings scored three unanswered goals in the final frame to take the opener of a two-game set in British Columbia.
"I thought we dictated the play for the majority of the game," Mougenel said. "Our legs caught up to us in the third. and we didn't play sure. When you're not sure against that team, you pay for it."
Olivier Latendresse's 14th goal of the season with 3:47 left in the third period was the controversial game-winner, assisted by Randall Gelech and Chad Painchaud.
As the puck was loose in front of the Wranglers net with goaltender Michael Ouzas tied up by an opposing stick, the puck went off of Latendresse's skate and past the line.
"It's one of those bounces," Mougenel said. "But it's how you respond. You're not always going to get the calls that you want, but the true testament to the character is how you respond.
"I didn't like our character there because we didn't respond well."
Bernhardt, recently reassigned from AHL San Antonio, injured his MCL and, according to Mougenel, is out indefinitely.
"I don't want to speculate," Mougenel said when asked how long Bernhardt would be out. "It all depends on what kind of grade the tear is."
The center tallied two points in 12 games with the Rampage after playing in nine games to begin the year with the Wranglers.
"It's tough when you lose a guy that early in the game," captain Chris Neiszner said. "It affects lines but, more importantly, it affects everyone else because you don't want to see that."
After falling behind 2-1 after the first period, Mike Madill and Greg Collins both netted second-period goals as the Wranglers took a lead into the third.
But the lead was short-lived, as Victoria's Andy Brandt scored just six minutes into the period.
Shortly after Latendresse's goal, Adam Miller was whistled for interference and from there the Salmon Kings put the game away with a power-play goal by Gelech.
The goal came with 1:24 left on the clock and only two minutes after Latendresse's game winner.
"From the first shift of the third period, they were a step ahead of us," Neiszner said. "I think we played well in the second but not enough in the third and first. When you only win 20 minutes, your chances aren't very good."
Miller scored his 10th goal of the season late in the first period, assisted by recently named ECHL Player of the Week Ned Lukacevic and Jeff Hazelwood.
Lukacevic's two assists prolonged his points-streak to six games.
It was the Salmon Kings fourth consecutive victory over Las Vegas, all coming at home, after the Wranglers were swept away last month.
In his first game with the club since early this season, Andrew Orpik recorded an assist on Madill's second-period goal.
"He looked good," Mougenel said. "He needs to get some minutes under his belt, but he's really going to help our hockey club."
With the loss, Las Vegas falls to 16-15-3-1. They remain in second place in the Pacific division and play in Victoria again Wednesday night.